The War on Diplomacy


Ironic, isn’t it?

Generally speaking, diplomacy and negotiation is a pretty good way for independent and sovereign nation-states to resolve differences. More importantly, however, diplomacy and treaties help to prevent war. War should be a last resort, not a foreign policy tactic. Our misadventure in Iraq stands as an example of how stupid it can be to rush to war. Invading Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein from power, and occupying that cobbled-together multiethnic, multi-sectarian state had absolutely no positive impact on regional security.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nowadays, most especially since President Obama’s election, any sort of diplomacy is seen as Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Hitler at Munich; appeasement.

Right now, six nations are negotiating a comprehensive deal with Iran to ensure that this regional sponsor of terrorism cannot develop nuclear weapons. Generally, Republicans who don’t trust President Obama might at least be heartened by the fact that Britain’s Conservative PM and Germany’s CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel are at the table with the US, France, Russia, and China. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Never mind that the absence of a deal between the permanent members of the UN’s Security Council plus Germany will free Iran to develop whatever nuclear weapons it wants under the quickest timeline it can possibly muster. Negotiating a deal with Iran with a strong inspections regime can ensure that Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons that it could use against our friends in the region. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appasement.

Never mind that Iran is simultaneously funding and supporting militant Shi’a groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, it’s also helping our allies fight Daesh in Iraq. It’s an unlikely alliance, but the enemy of our enemy is often our friend. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Never mind there’s no deal finalized yet, and we don’t exactly know what the outlines of any putative deal might be. Never mind that, for all its faults, a thaw in relations with Iran could have very positive effects for both countries and the region. Iran has been crippled by international sanctions imposed at the UN to halt its nuclear ambitions; it has a palpable incentive to negotiate in good faith. But negotiation and diplomacy are now considered appeasement.

Forty-seven Republican Senators signed an unprecedented communication to Iran’s government, offering up a big middle finger to President Obama and a condescending lecture about our Constitution, indicating that President Obama has no authority to negotiate and conclude any deal with Iran and our four negotiating partners. To so blatantly and openly undermine a President who is in the middle of negotiating a multilateral deal with our partners. Labour isn’t undermining David Cameron, and the SDP isn’t undermining Angela Merkel. The Republicans’ hatred and disrespect for President Obama is so strong that it vastly outweighs their love of this country.  These 47 lawmakers would weaken the US to embarrass the President.

What have they accomplished with their letter? Nothing. The President – rightly – accused these Republicans of aliging themselves with Iranian hard-liners who also want no deal, so they can be free to develop whatever weapons they want. Do these 47 Republicans prefer war – possibly nuclear war – with Iran rather than a deal preventing war? The Iranian Foreign Minister called it what it was – a propaganda ploy to kill any deal, regardless of what it might contain.

Vice President Biden wrote,

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

Many have accused these 47 Republicans of violating the “Logan Act”, a piece of legislation from 1799, which reads in relevant part:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

But even as a political ploy, how is this different from the recent efforts to link funding of the Department of Homeland Security with a shutting down of President Obama’s recent immigration policy initiative? The GOP might have the majority in the Senate, but not a veto-proof one, and by so egregiously undermining a President whose administration is in the middle of negotiating a deal with our partners and Iran, it ensures that the issue is now politicized and they’ll never get Democrats on board to help them.

A senior American official said the letter probably would not stop an agreement from being reached, but could make it harder to blame Iran if the talks fail. “The problem is if there is not an agreement, the perception of who is at fault is critically important to our ability to maintain pressure, and this type of thing would likely be used by the Iranians in that scenario,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to discuss the negotiations.

The White House and congressional Democrats expressed outrage, calling the letter an unprecedented violation of the tradition of leaving politics at the water’s edge. Republicans said that by styling it as an “open letter,” it was akin to a statement, not an overt intervention in the talks.

Congressional Republican hatred of the President outweighs love of country. Republican hatred of Obama is more important a policy goal than an international deal ensuring that Iran can’t develop a nuclear weapon. The deal sunsets in 10 years? What would prevent these world powers from negotiating something permanent down the road?

Preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a bipartisan goal. Pre-rejecting a deal that doesn’t exist is counterproductive and stupid, and undermines the President and makes the US seem like an untrustworthy bad actor that lurches around like a banana republic. It’s stupid because it’s bad politics, bad policy, and an ugly precedent to set. Hey, good job taking the “Hillary Clinton E-Mail” story off the front page, Republicans!

The real appeasement would be to abandon these negotiations and simply free Iran up to develop nuclear weapons. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this “open letter” is that at least 47 Republican Senators prefer to go to war against Iran. The war on diplomacy has got to end.

Nora Šitum: Coming to America

A five year-old Croatian girl, Nora Šitum, is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and needs immediate treatment. Although the economic situation in Croatia is in crisis – the country’s debt was just lowered to junk status last week – within just a few days, the family had raised the $590,000 for Nora’s treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is front-page news in Croatia, and the story is proving to be something of a PR headache for a Philadelphia hospital and the American Embassy in Zagreb. Her story made the front page of social media site Reddit Wednesday morning (but was later removed due to an editorialized title). 

After all that money had been raised so quickly, Croatian media reported yesterday that the Hospital had informed Nora’s family that the charge would actually be just over $834,000. That’s aside from the fact that her family and caregivers have been working feverishly to work through the complicated Croatian and American bureaucracies involved with transporting a little girl from a non-visa-waiver country to the US for medical treatment. The process to obtain such a visa is more difficult than just getting a tourist visa – you also need to establish that travel to the US is necessary because the proposed treatment is unavailable in Croatia, and the applicant must be seen by an Embassy physician. You also need to prove that you have an appointment and the financial means to pay the bill. 

Obviously, the United States Embassy in Croatia and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are unable to comment about specific ongoing cases, but I did manage to speak with people close to the situation who agreed to discuss the case on condition of anonymity. 

Under the Croatian national health care scheme, people are able to apply for payment of medical treatment undertaken abroad, and 75% of such requests are approved on an average year. However, the stem cell treatment that Nora is scheduled to undergo in Philadelphia is classified as “experimental”, and as such, the government health care plan will not cover any of it – the family has to come up with cash. 

The Šitum family has been in close touch with the US Embassy’s consular staff, and visas for Nora and her family were expected to be issued Wednesday afternoon. The Embassy has been in close touch with both the hospital and the Croatian Ministry of Health to coordinate the issuance of visas and doing “whatever it takes” to ensure that Nora and her family can travel to the US for these treatments. 

While it is true that the hospital quoted $590,000 as the cost of the experimental leukemia treatment that Nora is expected receive in Philadelphia,  it is also true that an additional $270,000 is to be paid over the course of a two year follow-up treatment. The Croatian government indicated that it would waive collection of the value added tax on any monies donated for Nora’s treatment, and the Mayor of Zagreb promised that the city would pay the difference into the accounts collecting funds for Nora’s treatment.  At a press conference Wednesday, Nora’s mother announced that they had collected in excess of the entire amount the hospital in Philadelphia had quoted to them

The treatment Nora is expected to receive is truly revolutionary – it involves injecting a harmless mutation of HIV into the child’s system, tricking her immune system into fighting the cancer.

To perform the treatment, doctors remove millions of the patient’s T-cells — a type of white blood cell — and insert new genes that enable the T-cells to kill cancer cells. The technique employs a disabled form of H.I.V. because it is very good at carrying genetic material into T-cells. The new genes program the T-cells to attack B-cells, a normal part of the immune system that turn malignant in leukemia.

The altered T-cells — called chimeric antigen receptor cells — are then dripped back into the patient’s veins, and if all goes well they multiply and start destroying the cancer.

The T-cells home in on a protein called CD-19 that is found on the surface of most B-cells, whether they are healthy or malignant.

Nora’s father wrote a message thanking supporters and people who had so quickly donated money for Nora’s treatment, adding,  

Thank God we live in Croatia – a country with a “junk” credit rating – and sent a message around the world.Maybe we are small and poor, and perhaps we don’t have the same living standards as the West, but for our children, we will empty our pockets of every last penny, because we have a heart and soul bigger than Switzerland’s credit rating. 

UPDATE: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia issued the following statement: 

CHOP treats thousands of children each year, from throughout the region, the country and the world and cares about the health of all children. We know how invested the family, friends, and the community at large is in ensuring CHOP provides the best possible care for all of its patients.

While patient privacy prohibits us from commenting specifically on any individual’s medical condition without consent, we want the public to understand the pricing protocols we follow for all international families.

How the International Medicine Process Works:

·       CHOP’s process estimates the costs of treatment in advance and seeks payment at the time treatment begins.  Additional follow-up clinical treatments are sometimes necessary and can be administered over several years, either at CHOP or back in the patient’s home country.  CHOP does not charge for this follow-up clinical treatment at the time of initial treatment.  If the child is not further treated at CHOP, CHOP will never charge for the follow-up treatment.  However, CHOP does explain those potential costs to patient families at the outset so they understand the financial issues they may be facing.  

·       We try to ensure that all international families understand the difference between the initial costs of treatment charged by CHOP, which does not change, and the potential future costs which will depend on future clinical treatments.

Foreign contributions can be made on Nora’s behalf using the following information: Udruga Hrabro dijete (Brave Child Association)  OIB 58243364080 and through the Zagrebačka Banka at IBAN: HR0423600001102209843 SWIFT CODE: ZABAHR2X


Outrageous Outrage, Part 1: Joseph Kony

So, admit you probably never heard of Kony until the other day. It’s ok – even you guys who think it’s tantamount to neo-colonial paternalism for us to suddenly care about Kony and Uganda – you, too, can admit that, although you probably heard of Kony‘s army, you probably weren’t aware of his name

As it turns out, Kony probably isn’t in Uganda at all, and Uganda’s political and economic situation, like that of much of sub-Saharan western Africa, is dictatorship in economic crisis, where AIDS is rampant and kids suffer from mysterious diseases that go unaddressed and untreated.  Uganda doesn’t exactly have a history of great leadership, and apart from perhaps hearing of the Lord’s Resistance Army in recent years, the only thing you likely associate that country with is Idi Amin, and he fled to Saudi in the late 70s – another Ugandan who terrorized his own people and was never brought to justice. 

And Invisible Children – articles have been released questioning their finances, their earnestness, their methodology, the content of their video, and their tchotchkization of a very serious issue. 

I acknowledge all of that. I won’t be sending Invisible Children $30 for a t-shirt or for stickers, and won’t participate in yet another bit of activism-by-bracelet. 

However, isn’t it a good thing what they did? Isn’t it a good thing that now, suddenly, this week, you’ve heard of Joseph Kony and know who he is? What he did to kids, to his country? I think it is.  We can nitpick over the content of the video, its historic and political accuracy, its oversimplification of a complicated issue. We can denigrate the pretense of earnest Westerners suddenly caring about African causes, but in the end, knowledge is better than ignorance

Especially because Joseph Kony has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. You might not be aware of that, or that court, because the United States is not a signatory to the treaty that created the court, is not a participant in that court, and is not subject to its jurisdiction. As a result, the United States has very little moral or legal authority to do very much at all vis-a-vis that court about Kony’s alleged crimes.

And that’s another thing –  a little bit of knowledge and “awareness” about the fact that a general war crimes tribunal exists in the Netherlands, and the United States has nothing to do with it, because if we did, the usual suspects – Birchers and their fellow travelers – would complain about everything from the UN, loss of sovereignty, New World Order, black helicopters, and all that other pseudo-informed, paranoiac, irrational rejection of thousands of years’ worth treatymaking and law. 

In the end, as flawed as the Invisible Children group and methods may be, you’ve now heard of a really bad guy, who is a wanted fugitive and indicted war criminal.  And if you click on this link, you’ll see the entire roster of Ugandan indictees at the International Criminal Court, and all of them should be brought to justice.  But if you want to see Kony’s warrant of arrest, here it is. It’s been pending since 2005.  Sure, the situation in Uganda is now different from how it was then, and there are other bad people doing bad things in Uganda. But with Kony 2012, now you have an excuse to read and learn all about it. But for that video, you’d still be sitting there not knowing a thing about it, or caring. 

Now, you do. 

Certainly, if you want to learn more about the Ugandan situation, now you have a wonderful excuse to do so. But I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive – that you have to completely immerse and inform yourself in the Ugandan political situation to credibly be able to care about the apprehension of Joseph Kony. However, what you can do – and should do – is contact your federal representatives and demand that the United States sign and ratify the Treaty of Rome, and become a full participating member in the International Criminal Court (which is independent and not under UN auspices), and that we do everything we can to help bring war criminals to justice, at home and abroad. 



Congratulations to Councilman Richard Fontana, who is the new President of the Buffalo Common Council. Time will tell whether his tenure in that position will be as friendly to the Brown Administration as has been presumed.

Congratulations to Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, who is expected to be elected Chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature today at 2pm. She wasn’t in the running, really, and emerged as a consensus candidate among legislature Democrats, who were eager to leave two years of acrimony behind. The pick renders false the breathless speculation by some that key Dems would align with the Republicans, and Grant’s selection seems symbolic, as her most recent predecessor and she would get into extremely heated arguments during the last session. With a new administration and a newly downsized legislative body, there’s a chance that the legislature will feature significantly less bickering, and they’ll just do their jobs.

And then we can discuss a complete abolition of county government as a separate deliberative entity, seeing as only about 10% of its budget is at all discretionary.

Congratulations to Channel 4’s Melissa Holmes, who will be replacing the departing Marissa Bailey at WGRZ-TV Channel 2.

Congratulations to Ted Shredd and Tom Ragan from 103.3-FM WEDG (“The Edge”), whose show will be moving to morning drive. Shredd & Ragan is that rare radio talk program in Buffalo that (a) isn’t almost exclusively devoted to sports talk; (b) doesn’t feature elderly reactionaries; and/or (c) doesn’t feature short-statured mulleted half-witted omniphobes.

Congratulations to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy Party will be permitted to participate in the upcoming election. The Burmese military leadership has been liberalizing that country’s politics in recent months, as Burma has become an economic and social backwater due to economic sanctions, while many of its neighbors’ economies have been thriving.